Why the North West leads the way on tackling climate change

24 February 2012
As a former climatologist, I find global warming - though the activity of humans burning fossil fuels and destroying CO2 ‘sinks’ such as tropical rain forests - both fascinating and alarming. The global temperature seems to be increasing towards the higher end of expectations and the melting of the arctic sea ice seems to be 25 years ahead of forecasts made less than 10 years ago. Last year we had the hottest October day on record and by the end of this month the UK may have had its highest February temperature on record. Two such records in one year would be unprecedented. Climate change also creates extremes, and a report published by one of the more interesting weather and climate websites, Weather Underground, highlights a study showing in the past five years, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected four out of five Americans. That means that climate change is expensive – very expensive. That procurement officers in North West England have taken steps to reduce the carbon footprints of their supply chains, was therefore excellent news. Putting a little more flesh on the bones, on 21 December, buyers from more than 30 local authorities in the region along with 2,500 suppliers, accounting for £5.5 billion of public sector procurement spend, agreed steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their supply chains. This is significant because much of the CO2 emissions attributable to the public sector come from procurement and its supply chains. It is reasonable to suppose this decision was taken in the expectation that costs would not increase. Indeed, I have long argued that reducing the use of resources should eventually help reduce supply chain costs – a real win-win.

However, their actions may not have met with the approval of Peter Forster, the Bishop of Chester, whose diocese sits in the North West. He published an article in the Church Times in October (reprinted here by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF)) to argue the world should adapt to anthropogenic global warming (warming caused by human impact, about which he is sceptical) rather than try to reduce the use of fossil fuels. He proposes a global fund to help the poorer nations with flood defences and agricultural adaptation, although he shies away from suggesting how big this fund might have to be and what to do where adequate flood defences would be prohibitively expensive or impracticable. Forster is a trustee of the GWPF, which describes itself as “open minded about the contested science of global warming”.

Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and other natural resources makes sense, ultimately by reducing cost, but also, since supply chains are often dependent on resources from politically less stable parts of the world, for national security. This can also help mitigate climate change and perhaps reduce some of the costs that the Bishop of Chester envisages countries such as the UK would have to bear to help poorer nations, as well as any costs we might have to bear in this country. These are huge wins, so the action of local government procurement officers in the North West taking such a lead is to be commended. Local government procurement spend is huge and influential – often estimated to be about £50 billion a year. If all local government adopted the stance of the North West authorities, the influence and benefits of less resource-intensive supply chains would extend to many other parts of the UK economy.
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